Who Ya Gonna Call? About Utility Bills
Last utility post, I promise! Today we’ll cover how we save on water, as well as services like phone, cable, and Internet.
Water is not a very expensive utility for us, but we’ve found ways to cut back on this precious resource.
- Your toilet is the #1 household user of water. If you’re like me and pee often, you might institute the old rhyming rule. I’ll just leave it at that.
- Wash not, want not. Your washing machine is mostly likely your #2 user of water. We don’t wash our clothes too frequently. Instead we re-wear our clothing if possible, except anything obviously stinky or dirty. Washing full loads is more efficient than smaller ones.
Clothes aren’t the only things we avoid over-washing. We rarely wash our cars. We only bathe the kids 1-2 times per week. We don’t shower every day. As far as I can tell, the notion that every person and clothing item needs to be washed every single day is a relatively modern cultural construct. Ben Franklin claimed cleanliness is next to godliness, but if he was anything like his contemporaries, he probably bathed only once per week at best.
3. We have a rain barrel. Our summer water bill used to go up by 50% in July & August because of our garden. Now we harness nature’s provision by collecting it in a rain barrel connected to one of our gutters. Naturally we got the barrel for free and rigged it up ourselves. Not only has our water bill gone down, our sewer bill (which is separate) is also noticeably lower.
In the garden, we’ve also employed soaker hoses to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. Timing watering in the mornings and evening also minimizes this. We have never watered our lawn.
4. Set back your hot water tank temperature. The EPA recommends setting it to 120. This change will show up in your energy bill. And it’ll prevent people from hurting their hands when ridiculously hot water gushes out of the faucet. (While you’re checking temps, set your fridge to 38 and your freezer to 0. Lower temps waste energy without preserving food differently.)
5. Having international friends, and visiting India and the American Southwest, really puts our water use in perspective. One friend would catch all the water in a glass while waiting for tap water to warm up. A Drop in the Bucket details another friend’s water use experiment. Her family of 5 carried all their water around the block before they could use it–for a month!
That’s it for water. Now let us abruptly transition to other utilities/services with a monthly bill. If I could sum up my advice on these, it would be to periodically call your providers to ask for better rates.
Call Me Maybe
About once a year I check in to ask if there is a better price available. Over time, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by doing this, and the call is usually not too time-intensive.
Neil’s employer pays for his smartphone, and I have a dumb phone with a prepaid plan. I could shop around for a better plan now that the cell phone service market has expanded, but the headache of switching and the ROI time involved with getting a different phone doesn’t feel worth the $5 or $10 per month I’d eventually save. I might just hold out until my dumb phone becomes obsolete and I relinquish my identity as the last human on earth to have one. No doubt the day is drawing near.
Discount providers or family plans are good ways to save, as is monitoring your data usage.
Taming the Tube
We don’t watch much TV so it’s never made sense for us to spend a lot on it. For years we used the good-old-fashioned rabbit ears to receive a few basic channels. At $15 this purchase was well worth it.
Another “free” or cheap TV source is Amazon Prime. We’ve always qualified for Student or Family memberships (free or $39/year); apparently we are always in school or making babies. Sometimes Amazon offers a media credit if you opt for longer shipping times. We racked up some credits this way while Christmas shopping.
We’ll watch free stuff on Hulu, get DVDs from the library, borrow movies from friends, or occasionally rent a 99 cent video. If we want to watch streamed media on our TV instead of the laptop, we use a $3 HDMI cable (purchased on ebay) to connect the two. Check out this post comparing the cost of various streaming options.
Though the Internet is not actually a necessity, it’s become a non-negotiable for us. Our bill periodically increases without warning, and each time we call and negotiate it back down to $35/month. It’s a pain in the neck but if we ask for promotions we always have good luck. Neil is better at this but I’ve also had success.
So who ya gonna call? When it comes to services like cell phone, Internet, and TV, it pays to call and ask for promotions, discounts, or better rates about once a year. Cite your loyalty over time, competitor’s prices, and any problems you may have experienced with the service. These savings add up across utility bills and over time to make a noticeable difference for us.
Who ya gonna call and save on utilities? How do you keep these costs down?